Piers Marchant at TIFF, Day Two

September 9, 2017

TIFF 2017: Day 2

Films: 5
Vibe: Observant

The Rider: Lyric and beautiful cinema vérité film from Chloé Zhao about a young rodeo cowboy (played by actual rodeo cowboy Brady Jandreau) who is forced to stop riding on horses after a bad injury gives him minor brain damage. As an animal lover, I’ve never been a big fan of the rodeo, but Zhao’s film is much less about the camaraderie and showmanship of the sport, and much more about Brady’s genuine affection and connection to the horses rides and trains with. It is slow and deliberate, utilizing non-actors more or less playing versions of themselves, but it carves out an honorable niche for itself. By the time Brady realizes the choice he feels he has to make, we’ve been in his boots long enough to feel the weight of his decision.

The Third Murder: Combining the slow, considered manner of Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda and a murder mystery sounds like an odd mixture, and the result will not dissuade you from that impression. A hotshot lawyer, Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama), is brought in on a murder case in which the aged suspect, Misumi (Koji Yakusho), has already completely confessed to murdering his boss, only seems vague as to detail and motive. Working backwards, Shigemori tries to figure out his client, only Misumi keeps changing his story every time the lawyer approaches him. Koreeda is interested in the idea of truth as it pertains to the individual, among other heady topics, but the film is laborious and somewhat of a drag – every time we seem to be heading in one direction Misumi changes his mind about what he did or didn’t do. As a courtroom drama, it can’t be considered a success, but there is still some interesting ideas at play, especially in the interrogation scenes between lawyer and client, of which there are many.

The Florida Project: Sean Baker’s follow-up to the hugely successful Tangerine offers an abundance of wonders, from the performances he gets from the young children in the film, to the backdrop of the Disney Strip’s seedy underbelly. The film – “follows” is too strong a word, so we’ll go with “hangs-out” – with a swath of residents who live in a pair of geographically close motels with equally grandiose names (“The Magic Kingdom,” “The Wishing Star”). As parents smoke, and drink, and work their dead-end gigs, their children run largely unhindered over the area, turning the squalid tourist-trap businesses that dot the avenue into their own, sprawling playground. It seems sort of like a screwy paradise for them, at first, but things slowly descend into darker depths, especially between a young mother (Bria Vinaite) and her 7-year-old daughter, Moonee (Brooklynn Prince). Presided over with gallant concern by a caring building manager (Willem Dafoe), the kids enjoy a certain amount of protection, but alas, they are still subject to their irresponsible parents’ worst impulses.

Brad’s Status: Mike White films usually leave you slightly disturbed and vaguely dissatisfied – sort of like getting a fountain Coke where the syrup has all but run out – but this Ben Stiller vehicle keeps a decent amount of fizz. Stiller plays Brad, a middle-aged father taking his son (Austin Abrams) to Boston for a series of college visits, including Tufts, his old alma mater. Brad is neurotic (naturally), and hitting the wall of a mid-life crisis, watching his old college friends – including Luke Wilson, Michael Sheen, and Jemaine Clement – do astoundingly well with their lives as he is floundering with envy and self-recrimination in his. The film is decidedly not for everyone – Brad’s frequent VO’s include many references to perceived slights that one character appropriately deems “first-world” problems – but White is working with more than just unhappy white male problems: Eventually, the film opens up in scope, and turns out to have more significant things to say about how our lack of perspective and painful myopia turn us all into the worst interpreters of ourselves.

Veronica: Based on true events (or, at the very least, on a real police report filed in Madrid in 1991), Paco Plaza’s film about a teen girl (Sandra Escacena), who uses a Ouija board with her friends in an attempt to speak with her dead father, only to awaken a malicious spirit who keeps trying to harm her and her siblings, follows all too closely the beats of the genre, without adding anything terribly new – or significantly real – to the proceedings. There are a few successful creepinesses, and a good jump scare or two, but there’s nothing else here to particularly take your mind off the fact that you’ve likely seen it all many times before.

Tomorrow: We start by taking in David Gordon Green’s Boston Marathon bomb-survivor story Stronger; watch Alexander Payne’s satire-esque comedy Downsizing; check out the domestic drama Custody; and close the day by watching Yorgos Lanthimos’ highly divisive drama The Killing of the Sacred Deer (but only after having ascertained that no deer, sacred or otherwise, are actually killed – thank the gods for poetry).

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